The History of the Labyrinth
The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in cultures around the world in many different forms.
The Classical Seven Circuit Labyrinth
The oldest known form is named for the number of circuits, or paths, on it. The Classical Seven Circuit Labyrinth is found on pottery and etched into cave walls. In mythology, it is assigned to the Isle of Crete. The oldest known examples date back five thousand years.
The Medieval Eleven Circuit Labyrinth
The labyrinth entered Christian prayer life during the Middle Ages, when it was incorporated into cathedrals across Europe. The Medieval Eleven Circuit Labyrinth is replicated on the floor of Chartres Cathedral, where it was placed in 1201. Of the eighty Gothic cathedrals that were built during the Middle Ages, twenty-two of them had labyrinths. Sadly, the only one remaining in its original form is at Chartres Cathedral.
The labyrinth Today
Today, people around the world use the labyrinth to quiet the mind, find balance, and encourage meditation, insight, and celebration. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural tool of well-being. Labyrinths are now found at sites as varied as medical centers, churches, prisons, spa and memorial parks.
The Labyrinths at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco
The Grace Cathedral Labyrinth Project began through the work of the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress.
In early 1991, she walked an informal labyrinth made of tape. Engaged by the experience, she then took a research trip to Chartres Cathedral. At Chartres, the labyrinth was, and still is, covered with chairs. It goes unused, except on selected Fridays. With the Very Rev. Alan Jones, Dr. Artress cleared the chairs from the labyrinth and walked it. They saw the benefits and power of this ancient tool, and began to conceptualize a labyrinth at Grace Cathedral.
The first labyrinth at Grace Cathedral assumed canvas form. It opened in December 1991, and was available to the public twice per month. It was so heavily used that a floor tapestry commissioned to replace it. The indoor tapestry labyrinth was installed in April 1994. As the result of a generous gift from Margaret and Will Hearst, the tapestry was replaced with an inlaid permanent limestone labyrinth in August 2007.
The outdoor terrazzo labyrinth is the Melvin E. Swig Memorial Labyrinth. It was dedicated in November 1995 and is the centerpiece of the award-winning meditation garden.
The canvas labyrinth at Lutheran Church of the Resurrection was dedicated (warmed) at Grace Cathedral by the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress in Febuary of 2005.
How to Walk the Labyrinth
In the English language, the words labyrinth and maze are incorrectly used interchangeably. The labyrinth differs from a maze in that it has only one path and there are no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives, touching our sorrows and releasing our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.
Quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. The path is a t wo-way street. Those going in will meet those coming out. You may “pass” people or let others step around you. Do what feels natural when you meet. Allow about one minute between people as you enter the labyrinth.
Pause, Breath Deeply and Focus as you enter a Labyrinth: The act of shedding thoughts and distractions enables you to let go of the details of your life. This is the time to open your heart and quiet your mind.